A little later than I'd planned, here's Part Three.
Remember, it's fiction. It's all made up. All of it.
You may want to start with art one, below.
The Canada-US border had changed a lot since the last time I drove across, pre-9/11. Back then the people working there were called Customs Officers and they asked you where you born and where you were going and they hoped you'd have a nice day. Now they're called Homeland Security, they carry big sidearms and they don't seem to care how well your day goes.
We waited in line and when it was our turn we pulled up at the booth. The guy inside had already typed my lisence plate number into the computer and he kept looking at the screen as he asked us where we were going.
I said, “Baltimore,” and he said, “Baltimore, New York?”
Shit, I was thrown off already, I didn't even know there was a Baltimore, New York. Then I blanked on what state Baltimore was in and I said, “No, um, Baltimore,” and I was about to say where the Orioles play and I remembered and said, “Maryland,” as if I'd won final jeopardy.
“What's the purpose of your trip?”
“We're going to a convention, a writer's convention.” I didn't think I should say, 'crime writer's convention,' I didn't want to say the word crime.
The guy said, “Are you both Canadians,” and Declan said, “No, I'm Irish.”
The guy typed on his computer some more and said, “Pull up over there and go inside.”
Shit. Everybody's border nightmare, pull up over there.
Across the parking lot a couple people were repacking their car, rolling up sleeping bags and shoving them into the trunk. Their stuff was spread out on the ground all around the car.
Declan said, “That doesn't look pleasant,” and he took the toy gun out of the glove compartment and put it into the paper Tim Hortons bag our donuts had been in.
We got out of the car and on the way into the building Declan dropped the Tim Hortons bag onto an already-full garbage can and kept walking. Just like that. Shit. I was starting to realize I didn't know this guy at all. It was fun and games when I told people I was taking a road trip to Bouchercon with a guy I'd never met, a writer from Ireland I met online, but it didn't seem so weird to me. I liked his books. So what if they're full of criminals and guns and violence, so are mine, didn't mean anything.
Well, not in my case.
Declan held the door open and still looked calm and cool as we went inside.
And he was calm and cool answering all the questions and ten minutes later we were walking back to the car. As we passed the garbage can, Declan didn't even slow down as he reached out and picked up the Tim Hortons bag.
Getting in the car he said, “Wal-Mart might be out of our way,” and I said, “I doubt it they're all over the place.”
Declan closed the door to my Saturn Vue and said, “Well, better safe than sorry.”
On the way to New York City we stopped in Brattleboro, Vermont. It's almost a sci-fi experience, pulling off the interstate into a beautiful mountain town where it still seems like the 50's. The folks at Mysteries on Main were happy to tell us that Brattleboro has four book stores on its main street and no Starbucks. That's good for them, I guess, but I was desperate for a triple grande latte.
The town was so nice, the people so pleasant, I almost felt bad pulling the gun in the gas station on our way out, but a car with Quebec plates left just as we pulled in and it gave me the idea to use my bad French accent to get the kid to hand over the money. It wasn't as good as the cheque cashing place, barely twelev hundred bucks, but as Declan said, “Every little bit helps,” and I figured the cops would be looking the car from Quebec.
A few hours later we were in New York City. Google directions were fine and we dropped the car in a parking garage on West 63rd right next to the Y where we were staying.
We'd made the arrangements online. I'd sent Declan some pictures of the rooms at the Y and they'd looked fine – small, but clean and with bunk beds. I had a joke all planned for when we walked into the room, I was going to say, “I haven't slept in bunk beds since jail,” but by the time we got to the room with over ten thousand bucks in stolen cash it didn't seem so funny.
And walking into the room was when we realized there was no bathroom.
Down the hall, around the corner. Public washroom. Three shower stalls. One of them covered with yellow police crime scene tape.
Declan said, “What the fuck,” and I said, “It's fun to stay at the YMCA.”
It was late by then so we walked around the neighbourhood, saw Lincoln Centre, Columbus Circle and Central Park. New York, New York.
The next morning in the elevator there were a couple of well-dressed women, business suits and carrying briefcases, and one of them was saying, if CBS doesn't give us an answer right away, we'll take it to ABC, and I was thinking, yeah, it's the Y, so what, it's New York, it's big business and here I am going to see my American publisher.
Declan said, “Those beds are noisy, though, can't even think of a wank in there.”
Things didn't go well at the publisher.
First of all, neither Declan nor I had thought to bring the address. Sign of the modern world, we stood in Columbus Circle and Declan phoned his brother in Dublin who Googled the publisher and gave us the phone number. You really can't make this stuff up.
We got the wrong subway directions. The publisher had recently merged with another company and moved offices and the nice receptionist gave us direction to the old office. We were only lost for a few minutes, though, and hopped in a cab.
The reality of the merger sank in at lunch when no one seemed too interested in any more books from either me or Declan. Fair enough, that's business, but we left bummed. Declan stopped in the Baby Gap to pick up stuff for Lilly and I walked around the block a few times trying to put the best possible spin on all this.
The weird thing was I spent more time looking at places to rob, seeing all the security and trying imagine ways around it. I used to call that kind of thing research, now I wasn't so sure.
It was late afternoon when we got out of the cab by the Y and Declan said let's take a walk in Central Park.
We walked around, talked about writing, other stuff we were working on, tried to cheer each other up. I wanted to find that memorial for John Lennon but I wasn't motivated enough. We took some pictures, telling ourselves they were for the blog but I doubted we'd put any of this up on a blog.
We were on our way out and we saw a fenced off area with swings and slides and jungle gym, the sign said 'The Dianna Ross Playground' and Declan said, “She gets the whole place to herself?” and I said, “Look,” pointing at some high school kids, two boys and a girl, all wearing maroon sweaters – the boys wearing grey pants and the girl a grey skirt – and they were going behind the playground to where there were a few trees and a guy sitting on the bench in the shade. The guy was three hundred pounds easy, big bald black head, and he nodded when the kids stopped to talk to him.
Declan said, “Beautiful day for a dope deal.”
One of the high school boys dropped something on the bench – my crime writer skills kicking in to tell me “money” and the big black guy dropped an envelope. The kids walked out past the Dianna Ross playground in no hurry.
Declan said, “Not a bad idea, that,” and I thought he meant as a scene in a book, a dope deal in the park but it was kinda boring, very matter of fact. Maybe it could get worked into something else but it'd have to happen pretty quick and move on.
Then I thought maybe he meant scoring some dope and I was going to tell him I'd be fine with a beer, maybe a Jameson if I was still bummed, but he was already walking around the playground towards the guy.
The guy said, “Gentlemen.” He was having a great day, a beautiful autumn day sitting on a bench in Central Park making money.
Declan took the gun out of the Baby Gap bag and said, “Afternoon.”
The guy said, “Oh my, they selling toy guns at Baby Gap? I'da thought Gap for Kids, maybe, but not the babies. This city,” shaking his head but still in a good mood. Then he said, “What can I do you for gentlemen, little weed or something more chemical? You feeling nostalgic today I got some genuine hippy acid.”
Declan dropped the gun back in the Baby Gap bag and said, “It's good weed, then?” and the guy said, “The best, my man, you Irish, right?”
Declan said, “Yeah.”
The guy said, “Yeah, like my man, Bo-no, gonna save the world,” and he laughed.
We bought a little weed. It wasn't 'the best,' it was okay.
The next day we were feeling a little better and ready for the drive to Philadelphia for Noir at the Bar, organized by Peter Rozovsky. The extra cash we had meant we wouldn't have to crash at Peter's place, which was good because we're all getting a little too old to be “crashing” on couches.
We're suposed to be professionals, after all.